Songs in the Key of Life

The tiny piano sits silently in my mother’s living room, its yellowed keys beckoning to be played. Its journey began in her uncle’s small Boston apartment almost a century ago.

After Uncle Dougie passed away, the piano moved to her childhood home. She learned on this petite 66-key upright, entire octaves eliminated to accommodate smaller spaces.

The piano accompanied my mother through three husbands, five states, and a daughter who spent twenty-five years finding her way. It now lives in her old farmhouse.

She played hymns; I played Mozart. It appeared in the Mother’s Club float, hoisted aboard a truck bed for the annual Memorial Day parade. My mother played, wearing a top hat, while the Mother’s Club sang along.

The Mother’s Club disbanded; the husbands passed away. The piano remains. But my mother no longer remembers how to play.

Leggo my . . . slippers?

Last summer, I spent twenty minutes searching the house for mom’s lost slippers. I checked all the logical spots (closet, bathroom); hailed St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things; struggled not to lose my cool. On a whim, I opened the tiny freezer above the refrigerator and there they were, nestled among Eggo waffles, frozen peas and pizzas.

Mom’s comment: “I guess my feet were hot.” How could I not laugh?

Finding humor in certain situations is vital to dementia caregiving. Just remember to throw in a hefty dose of mindfulness, compassion and sensitivity when it comes to how your caree will respond.

Mom and I both laughed hard at the frozen slippers. She may not remember, but it’s forever a happy memory for me. As Jimmy Buffet reminds us: “If we didn’t laugh we would all go insane.”

Man Plans, God Laughs

Planning and routines originated in my childhood. Even before the days of helicopter moms and overscheduled afterschool activities, my mother had me on a tight schedule from birth: sleeping, eating, playtime. It set the stage for my future.

In the business world, my Year-at-a-Glance wall calendar was filled with seminars, trips, and meetings. Suddenly leaving the security of that perfectly choreographed life to take care of my mother was not part of the plan.

As caregivers, we live unplanned lives. We must do our best to live life a day at a time, and when that’s too difficult, try to stay in the moment, to live in the “now” of what caregiver Bob DeMarco calls Alzheimer’s World.

All the planning in the world can’t guarantee results, but it will guarantee heartburn unless I remember that I’m not in charge.